Sotterly: The Search for Access
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The incorporation of the needs of the disabled into the uses of historic properties is not a new concept, but it is an ever-evolving one. As the public understanding of disabilities becomes greater, professionals in the field of historic preservation must remain educated and involved in the discussion. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a disability is anything that alters, temporarily or permanently, a major life function of an individual, including “performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.”1 A disability may include a person with a physical or mental impairment, or a person with limited sight, shortness of breath, or an illness like diabetes. These challenges must be taken into account when considering the use of an historic property, particularly one that serves a public function. The focus of this paper will be Sotterley Plantation in southern Maryland, a site operated as an historic house museum and outdoor educational and recreational public facility. Barriers to both physical and programmatic access will be identified and recommendations will be given for better incorporation of accessible use. Sotterley faces challenges similar to any historic site- how can the defining characteristics that make it so unique be protected while at the same time providing a fair opportunity for those with disabilities to experience it? It is vital for the longevity of our valued historic resources that the public use and appreciate these sites, and our disabled population deserves the same privilege. And yet poorly planned designs and lack of participation from interested parties in the past have met with less than successful results; designs that serve neither the user nor the resource. Keeping the discussion open between preservation and accessibility professionals is the first step in overcoming errors in access. The next is to follow a process of identifying access barriers and proposing solutions, with the goal in mind of protecting the historic resource to the greatest degree possible. This paper provides a model for how to strategically plan for access at a site like Sotterley. 1 United States Department of Justice. Department of Justice. Code of Federal Regulations. 1994.